Helping Bridge the Digital Divide with After School Access Project
Bridging the digital divide for youth in our communities is one of the most important goals we have at UScellular. Through the After School Access Project, UScellular is pledging up to $13 million in mobile hotspots and service to nonprofits to close the connectivity gap for youth in 2022. Laurent Therivel, chief executive officer at UScellular, shared his thoughts on the connectivity crisis that students face today and how UScellular is looking to narrow the “homework gap.”
Millions of youth (16 million to be exact) in the United States don’t have access to the internet at home. That’s a difficult number to absorb. To bring it to life, it’s the middle school student who couldn’t finish his chemistry homework, lowering his grade and making him frustrated about a future in science. It’s a teen, who had to ride her bike several miles to the local library to use their free internet connection to finish her college application. Or the child who wants to join their classmates in a video chat to plan a project, but they can’t participate due to a choppy connection. There are too many stories like these that show the negative impact the lack of basic connectivity can have on youth. Connectivity is no longer a nice thing to have – it is a necessity for progress, learning and access to future opportunities.
Even before the pandemic, many households already dealt with the challenges of limited connectivity. BroadbandNow estimates nearly 42 million Americans do not have access to high-speed internet – either due to availability or affordability. Parents and children are going to great lengths to find free Wi-Fi connections, turning local laundromats, coffee shops and libraries into their “home” offices and classrooms, to simply finish homework, apply for a job or college and keep learning. This lack of access creates a ripple effect on the lives of youth in our communities. Michigan State University discovered that students with unreliable connectivity on average scored a half letter point lower than their connected counterparts.
The pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. In another survey conducted earlier this year by UScellular and DonorsChoose, one in four of the surveyed parents believe their child needed additional resources or summer classes to make up for the lapse in education created by the pandemic.
When UScellular began hearing these stories of youth without access to reliable internet, we knew we had to act. We piloted a program with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, providing free mobile hotspots and service to help close the connectivity gap. Through this program, we’ve donated $2.6 million in hotspots and service to 33 Boys & Girls Clubs, helping youth in our communities get the necessary access to complete their homework and continue their education.
We’re proud of enabling these connections, but we’re just getting started. We’re formalizing and expanding our efforts with the After School Access Project. In 2022, we’re pledging up to $13 million in mobile hotspots and service to provide up to 50,000 youth with the connectivity they need to shape their future. Our goal is to help bridge the digital divide for youth in our local communities so they can live up to their potential. The After School Access Project will be available in all areas where we provide service, underlying our commitment to connect as many unserved students in our communities as possible.
So now you might ask, what’s next? Join me in encouraging eligible nonprofit organizations to learn more and apply through our online application: https://bit.ly/3B7zOZQ. Together, we can transform the lives of young people in our communities by connecting them…I hope you’ll join us!